'Sound System' boxed set will make Clash fans happy
The Clash (Sony Legacy)
Iconic British punk rockers the Clash crafted one of the 20th century's most impressive catalogs of music and new box set “Sound System” brings most of it together in one exhaustive package. The mammoth 12-disc collection features remastered versions of the Clash's studio albums, three CDs of demos and rarities, and a DVD of promo videos, interviews and assorted live footage. In addition, there are goodies like dog tags, badges, stickers, a photo poster and reprints of Clash fanzines. The studio albums hold up all these decades later and the 52 tracks of rarities should keep completists busy (and happy) for hours. If you're a fan, it's worth the almost $200 you'll shell out for “Sound System.”
‘Rattle Their Chains'
Brian Wright (Sugar Hill)
Rootsy Texas rocker Brian Wright turned some heads with 2011 debut “No Depression” and builds on that success with rock-solid sophomore slab “Rattle Their Chains.” Wright gets things off to a fantastic start with the opening tandem of “Over Yet Blues” and “We Don't Live There,” and delivers the goods on “Haunted,” “Hear What I Want,” “Weird,” “Face of the Earth,” “Rosalee” and “Love My Little Baby.” Drawing inspiration from Bob Dylan and the Band, as well as Townes Van Zandt and Woody Guthrie, Wright has done himself proud.
‘Rock & Roll Is Alive'
The Jokers (Steamhammer)
Riff-heavy British hard rockers the Jokers look to capture the fancy of American audiences with the release of second full-length “Rock & Roll Is Alive.” The Liverpool-based foursome pull out all the stops on the 11-track release and the results are mostly favorable. Groove-laden opener “Silver City” lures listeners in and the Jokers keep things rolling with the title track, “Let It Rock,” “Find My Way Home” and “Bring Your Love Back to Me.” Rock on, fellas.
‘Tell the Ones I Love'
Steep Canyon Rangers (Rounder)
Best known for their terrific 2011 “Rare Bird Alert” collaboration with Steve Martin, the Steep Canyon Rangers have been having a blast making modern bluegrass albums for the better part of a decade. “Tell the Ones I Love” is the followup to last year's Grammy-winning “Nobody Knows You” and ranks among the more enjoyable efforts of their career. SCR serve up a dozen original tunes that showcase their vocal harmonies, remarkable instrumental agility and unique use of drums and percussion. Highlights include the title track, “Bluer Words Were Never Spoken,” “Come Dance,” “Boomtown” and “Hunger.” These guys are special.
‘Now, Then & Forever'
Earth, Wind & Fire (Legacy)
As a big fan of Earth, Wind & Fire, I really — really — wanted to love “Now, Then & Forever,” the legendary group's first new studio album in eight years. I can't say the 10-track release is on par with classic EWF albums such as 1975's “That's the Way of the World,” 1976's “Spirit” or its 1971 self-titled debut, but the 10-track release captures some of the old funk-soul magic. The album gets off to a strong start with “Sign On” and “Love Is Law,” and Earth, Wind & Fire also impresses with “Dance Floor” and “Night of My Life.” Instrumentals “Belo Horizonte” and especially “Splashes” slow the momentum down the stretch, but it's nice to see the guys still going strong after more than 40 years together.
The Starfolk (Korda)
Chamber pop quartet the Starfolk makes a solid first impression with its self-titled debut album. Husband-and-wife tandem Brian Tighe and Allison LaBonne are the guiding forces behind the project, which was four years in the making thanks to the other commitments of the four Starfolk members. It proves worth the wait, however, as Tighe, LaBonne and their mates deliver 12 consistently enjoyable tunes. Among the keepers are “The Great Unknown,” “Kindness of Strangers,” “Sow the Seed,” “Midnight Moon,” “True Blue” and “From Above.” Hopefully we won't have to wait so long for the Starfolk to return.
Miniboone (Ernest Jenning)
Big Apple-based power pop quintet Miniboone spent the past five years honing its craft with relentless touring and a couple EPs. Now the band, which has appeared at Bonnaroo and South By Southwest and shared the stage with the B-52s and Art Brut, unveils its full-length debut, a fantastic self-titled gathering of 13 tunes that should win Miniboone plenty of new fans. You can't get off to a better start than the one-two punch of “The Superposition of Human Affection” and “I Could, I Could,” and Miniboone also soars on “Rollerskates,” “Magic Eye,” “Baby, I Hope So,” “While U W8” and “She Sleeps Alone.” The sky's the limit for this talented outfit.
The Albertans (Ernest Jenning)
Synth-driven indie outfit the Albertans look to broaden their fan base with the release of third album “Dangerous Anything.” The Joel Bravo-fronted band has crafted a moody, laid-back collection of 10 tunes that falls short of essential. Languid instrumental “Casa Aqua” gets things off to a sleepy start before the Albertans find the groove. Along the way are a handful of keepers “Begin the Beguin,” “Jason,” “Waterbeds” and “Ohio Light and Fire.” There may be a great album in this band yet.
‘Devil at Our Heels'
Dan Miraldi (self-released)
I've been singing the praises of Cleveland native Dan Miraldi for the past couple years as I wait for the masses to catch on to this talented singer/songwriter. He followed 2011's sublime “Rock N Roll Band!” EP with last year's stellar “Sugar & Adrenaline” full-length, impressed with “The Freewheelin' Dan Miraldi EP” in April and keeps the music coming with yet another EP, “Devil at Our Heels.” Though this six-track release isn't quite on par with its predecessors, Miraldi remains one of my favorite under-the-radar gems. Opener “Untame” is the best of the bunch, and he also scores with the title track, “Asking Her to Stay” and “I Still Wish She Was Mine.” It's time you got to know this guy.
Forest Fire (FatCat)
The sonic evolution of NYC four-piece Forest Fire continues with third full-length “Screens.” The Mark Thresher-fronted outfit moved away from the folky sounds of its 2009 “Survival” on sophomore platter “Staring at the X” and distances itself even more on this 10-track effort. Thresher's nasal vocals anchor the set (with help from Natalie Storrmann) and Forest Fire burns bright on “Waiting in the Night,” “Yellow Roses,” “Fixation,” 11-minute opus “Annie” and “Alone With the Wires.” Can't wait to see where Forest Fire goes next.
JD Eicher & the Goodnights (Rock Ridge)
Pittsburgh/Youngstown-based pop/rock outfit JD Eicher & the Goodnights wraps up a previously undisclosed trilogy of albums with “Into Place.” Their first album “The Shape of Things” focused on the cycle of life, sophomore set “Shifting” was an introspective exploration of change, and “Into Place” represents being comfortable in your own skin. It's an ambitious — and effective — project from a band that has yet to enjoy the breakthrough that its music merits. The bouncy “Ode to the Underdog” gets the 12-track CD off to a great start, and Eicher & Co. also shine on “Give It Up,” “People,” “I'd Like to Get to Know You” and “Oh My God.”
‘Live in San Francisco'
Ry Cooder (Nonesuch/Perro Verde)
I find it hard to believe that over the course of a career that's spanned parts of five decades, Ry Cooder had released just one live album — 1977's “Show Time” — prior to the terrific “Live in San Francisco.” Recorded in 2011 at Great American Music Hall, this 12-track, 73-minute offering shows that Cooder, now 66, has plenty of gas left in the tank. Backed by the Corridos Famosos band, Cooder serves up songs that span his entire career. Keepers include “Crazy ‘Bout an Automobile (Every Woman I Know),” “The Dark End of the Street,” “Boomer's Story,” “El Corrido de Jesse James,” “Vigilante Man” and a set-closing reading of “Goodnight Irene.” Good stuff.
‘The End of When'
The Black Watch (Pop Culture Press)
The lone constant for the Black Watch over the past quarter century is singer/songwriter John Andrew Fredrick. Though never a household name, the Black Watch has more than a dozen albums to its credit. Two-disc set “The End of When” is both a look to the future and the past, and may serve to introduce Fredrick's music to a new generation of listeners. Disc 1 features 11 new tracks, and finds the Black Watch hitting all the right notes on “Meg,” “Hardly Nothing Never Ending,” “Sum,” the title track and “The Spare Side.” Disc 2 is a 16-track “best of” collection that includes standouts “Emily Are You Sleeping?”, “Kinda Sorta,” “Williamsburg,” “Tear the Sky” and “Whatever You Need.”
Peelander-Z (Chicken Ranch)
Peelander-Z bills itself as the “Japanese Action Comic Punk Band,” and I suppose that's as good a way as any to describe the colorfully costumed quartet. I've never warmed to its previous albums, but “Metalander-Z” is one that I can see revisiting once or twice. Inspired by the likes of AC/DC, Def Leppard and Iron Maiden, this 10-track release should appeal to those who grew up listening to 1980s metal. It's admittedly silly, but Peelander-Z still manages to entertain with “High Five Boy,” “Ride on the Shooting Star,” “I Got Fired” and “My Shake.”
‘Bed & Bugs'
Obits (Sub Pop)
Coming on the heels of dynamic albums “I Blame You” (2009) and “Moody, Standard and Poor” (2011), the terrific “Bed & Bugs” continues the career-long winning streak for Brooklyn-based garage punks Obits. The guys are at it again on a 14-track set that romps by in just 40 minutes. The songs are rough around the edges in the best possible way and further cement Obits as one of my favorite young bands. From the opening notes of “Taste the Diff” to the closing strains of “Double Jeopardy (For the Third Time),” there's no wasted effort. Additional keepers include “It's Sick,” “Pet Trust,” “Besetchet,” “Malpractice” and “Receptor.” Rock on.
‘Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road'
Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road (Pinecastle)
Fixtures on the modern bluegrass scene, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road are back with a twang-tastic self-titled release. Mixing some well-chosen covers with a handful of originals, Jordan & Carolina Road shine on most of the album's 12 tracks. “Living With the Shades Pulled Down” is the best song here, though they also hit the right notes on “Livin' Like I'm Dying,” “Song of the French Broad,” “I Heard You Call His Name Last Night,” “Suitcase of Your Heart” and a spirited rendition of the traditional instrumental “Liza Jane.” Enjoy, y'all.
‘A Taste of Silver'
Until the Ribbon Breaks (Republic)
British singer/songwriter Pete Lawrie Winfield makes music under the Until the Ribbon Breaks moniker and impresses with infectious R&B debut EP “A Taste of Silver.” The five-track release features “2025” and “Pressure,” the two tunes that helped build up the deserved hype, along with a trio of never-before-heard songs. The Homeboy Sandman collaboration “Perspective” is my favorite on the EP, followed closely by “Pressure” and “2025.” Only “Romeo” fails to register on the 20-minute record. Can't wait to hear more.